NHS is switching to cheaper mimics of expensive cancer drugs


Biological drugs, like trastuzumab are tough to perfectly replicate

Alfred Pasieka/Science Photo Library

BIOLOGICAL drugs are the new darlings of medicine. In recent years, they have doubled treatment rates for several cancers, arthritis and Crohn’s disease. But these medicines, which are large, complex molecules produced by living cells, carry hefty price tags, and now comprise eight of the world’s top 10 money-spinning drugs.

A one-year course of the biological breast cancer drug trastuzumab (sold as Herceptin), for example, costs $50,000. In the UK, biologics have contributed to a 29 per cent rise in National Health Service spending on drugs since 2010.

“Some doctors are worried these cheaper copies won’t work as well or as safely. Are these fears justified?”

That’s why, starting this year, the NHS plans to substitute all brand-name biologics for cheaper generic versions, hoping to cut costs by up to 70 per cent.

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